Cameroon's 'Lions' achieve the impossible dream with a ticket to Men's World Championship

21 February 2014

 Having come through a real qualifying thriller in their capital Yaounde to secure their ticket to the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship Poland 2014, Cameroon’s volleyballers waved their national flag proudly as they danced around the packed hall in front of their adoring fans.


 The fact that a lion mascot was on hand to join in the celebrations was very fitting, as the team had once again proven just why they are known as the ‘Indomitable Lions’ during the qualifying tournament. The team, under the guidance of German coach Peter Nonnenbroich, emerged triumphant from a seemingly forlorn situation to qualify for the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship Poland 2014 from August 30 to September 21.


Among those sharing the outpouring of great joy was Adoum Garoua, the country’s sports minister, and the famous Roger Milla, African footballer of the last century. They were present in the hall to congratulate Jean- Patrick Ndaki Mboulet and company in a clear statement of just how important this triumph is for the entire country. Equally important was the announcement from Garoua that the team and the Cameroon Volleyball Federation were to receive the equivalent of about US$100,000 in support.


“I came on behalf of the government, the President of the Republic, and on behalf of other Cameroonians to tell you congratulations,” Adoum Garoua told the players and their coaching staff in the locker room.


“You go to the World Championships, where the best teams of the world are playing, and thanks to you the image of our country is enhanced. After football yesterday, today is volleyball.” Last November, the national football team qualified for the World Cup Finals in Brazil.


For long periods of the qualifying campaign, it did not look as though there was going to be such a happy ending for the national volleyball team. After a laborious 3-1 opening win against Nigeria, the hosts and favourites suffered a surprising 3-1 defeat against Rwanda on day two of the qualifying tournament. “I hardly slept after that loss. I just watched the video of the match against Rwanda over and over,” said coach Peter Nonnenbroich, highlighting the severity of the situation. “My guys found it difficult to cope with the pressure in the first couple of matches. However, when it was all or nothing, they were on the ball. The emotion shown by the players and fans was incredible.”


Cameroon beat the previously unbeaten Algerians 3-0 (28-26, 25-21, 25-15). Despite this win, the World Championship ticket still appeared to be out of reach, until Nigeria came to their rescue on the final match day.


 The Nigerians took a set from Algeria (3-1) and Cameroon secured the obligatory 3-0 win against Gabon in the final game of the tournament to trigger the wild celebrations. With three teams boasting a record of three wins and one defeat, Cameroon ultimately held a better set ratio (2.5) than Algeria (2.25) and Rwanda (1.5). As such, Cameroon will now make its third appearance at the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship Poland 2014, having previously qualified in 1990 (15th) and 2010 (13th).


The team made history at the last championships in Italy four years ago. The crowd favourites overcame Australia 3-1 to claim the first ever victory for a central African country at a World Championship, progressing to the next round in the process. This year’s finals in Poland could see a repeat of that duel with Australia. As the third highest-ranked African team in the world, Cameroon looks likely to play against the hosts Poland, Argentina, Serbia, Australia and Venezuela in Pool A. 


However, that will only be the case if the best-placed African team in the world rankings, Tunisia, qualifies as expected. Tunisia is both the host and hot favourite at the last African qualifying tournament from March 2 to 8, when they will battle it out against Seychelles, Congo Brazzaville, Senegal and Niger for a ticket to the World Championship.


Kenya is currently hosting the first women’s contest for the African tickets to FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship Italy 2014, as Nairobi welcomes Seychelles, Uganda, Tunisia, Senegal, Mozambique and Cape Verde.


 The conclusion of the tournament in Kenya will pave the way for the next qualifying round, which will see Algeria host Botswana, Ghana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Egypt in Pool T from February 23 to March 2. Africa will be represented by two women’s teams in the FIVB Volleyball Women World Championship, which is to be held in Italy from September 23 to October 12.


Currently 18 of the 24 teams for the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship Poland 2014 have been confirmed: Bulgaria, Serbia, Germany, Belgium, Finland and France qualified at the beginning of this year.

 They are joined by hosts Poland, Olympic champions Russia and Italy from Europe, Australia, Iran, China and Korea from Asia, Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil from South America and Egypt and Cameroon from Africa. Countries in the NORCECA confederation must wait the longest to discover their fate, with four qualifying tournaments (each with four teams) scheduled for May and June in the USA, Cuba, Canada and Puerto Rico, as well as a continental play-off from July 9 to 14.


Cameroon have already secured their place at the highlight of the season. This is all the more remarkable, as the team had to overcome some major difficulties during their preparations for the qualifying tournament.


 In Cameroon, volleyball is sometimes played on cement or tarmac courts. Financially, the national team players are not exactly born with a silver spoon in their mouths. German coach Peter Nonnenbroich initially arrived in Cameroon as an FIVB instructor, taking charge of the Cameroon ladies team at the 2006 World Championship. Those in charge of sporting issues in Cameroon were delighted with his efforts, and Nonnenbroich has subsequently led the men’s national team to the FIVB World Championship in 2010 and now 2014.


The Cameroonians now have their sights set on achieving the impossible at the highlight tournament of the volleyball season in Poland. As sports minister Garoua rightly noted, “In sport, it is a matter of believing in yourself.”


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2014 Men's World Championship African qualifier  




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